by Fadzai Nova
Why is sexual expression repressed in the world? Every time a musician creates a sexually
provocative music video, society acts as if they have never seen nudity before, and most people tend to behave as if they came into this world by means of some mechanical teleportation and not by a natural sexual process between two human beings. In pop culture there has been a long-standing debate about how artists, primarily female artists, portray sexuality in their work. There are two main viewpoints on this debate, either that artists use sexuality as a form of sexual empowerment or that artists implement the iconography of sexual submission and therefore are merely victims of sexual objectification.
For example, American singer Beyoncé’s beat-heavy single “Partition" off her self-titled fifth studio album (2013) caused a dispute between whether the musician can be viewed as representing sexual empowerment or sexual objectification in the song when it was released as a single earlier this year. The lyrics and accompanying music video directed by Jake Nava are dense with explicit sexual themes. The sultry video casts the musician as a wealthy aristocrat who finds herself fantasising about sex while having breakfast with her partner. The images that unfold in the music video are a representation of her fantasises. While dressed in elaborate ornamented corsets, the classic femme fatale trench coat and vintage-inspired lingerie, Beyoncé enacts a form of sexual indulgence that one would find in a Parisian cabaret. Crafting sexually explicit content is not new in the music industry; Madonna, Miley Cyrus and Rihanna are typical examples of this trend. However, “Partition” in particular created controversy as Beyoncé is currently one of the most influential musicians in pop culture and has defined herself as a feminist, yet she uses tools that reinforce the idea that women need to be sexually submissive and objectified in order to prove their empowerment, which many people underline is not a feminist viewpoint.
It is imperative to underline that feminism is never going to be a definitive liberation movement; the term relies on modern western ideology to challenge the cultural boundaries of societies that may not work for all contexts. It is a movement where beautifully complex women are the prime focus within a world that has not yet learned how to live in balance, and therefore there is bound to be a long tussle going forward about how to define it or what constitutes feminist action.
Beyoncé’s “Partition” created a gulf in opinions because there is a struggle of how sexual empowerment should be understood; as a subjective, personal, internal feeling of power and agency or as an outward, objective measure which needs to be controlled. Defining sexual empowerment as a subjective state may create the idea that sexuality is linked to cultural and institutional power which may cause repression in some instances, but objective sexual empowerment does not validate a person’s own experiences and perceptions.
Beyoncé’s “Partition” is a form of sexual empowerment because it was her choice to participate in creating the content of the product. She owns her sexuality in the video, and enjoys it. It is unfair to dictate to women how they should live and behave in the world in the name of liberating them, as if women cannot think for themselves, and repressing the sexuality of women is another form of controlling and limiting them. The media does perpetuate ideas about life and sexuality that are not necessarily ideal, especially for young people, but censorship is not the solution. Guidance is the key because when all viewpoints are communicated a society is liberated and people then have the agency to think for themselves. Sexual empowerment should be a personal developmental process and should be discussed as openly as possible in order to educate people, especially young minds, to better understand themselves, their perceptions and their choices. Condemning, hiding and shaming sexuality only leads to unhealthy confusion and repression of something that is completely natural.
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